Collage of 5 photos of the aircraft throughout the refinishing process

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) recently refinished a retired Douglas A-4M Skyhawk for historic display onboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. This collage showcases the refinishing process, beginning with the aircraft’s condition prior to being refinished, upper left corner, and ending with the fully refinished aircraft, bottom middle. Restoring the aircraft to its former glory was a unique experience for many FRCE artisans as the depot had not serviced an A-4 in over 20 years.

FRCE restores historic aircraft to former glory

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) artisans recently had the rare opportunity to restore a piece of aviation history for display onboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

As an aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul facility, FRCE’s Aircraft Clean and Paint shops prime and paint each aircraft that passes through the facility. However, artisans had the chance to “travel back in time” as they restored a retired Douglas A-4M Skyhawk – a platform that has not been serviced by the depot in more than 20 years – to its former glory.

Working on the A-4 was a first for many FRCE artisans, including aircraft painter Kirby Mills, as it has been 21 years since the Navy retired its last A-4 Skyhawk in 2003.

“I’ve done a few restorations for display aircraft, but this is the first A-4 I’ve seen come through here,” said Mills. “I had never worked on an A-4 before. It was very neat and it’s nice to see it put to use.”

Though this was the depot’s first time restoring an A-4 Skyhawk for historical display, it was not the first time FRCE has performed maintenance on an A-4. Prior the A-4 platform’s retirement, FRCE serviced A-4s from 1989-1996.

Stephen T. Gurley, who currently serves as the Fleet Support Team’s Critical Item Management Team branch head at FRCE, said seeing an A-4 back at the depot made him feel as though he traveled back in time.

“The A-4 platform was the first aircraft platform I worked on at FRC East in 1991, and I spent a lot of time working on them,” said Gurley. “I traveled to different squadrons all throughout the ‘90s to repair A-4s, and now to hear about this, it’s exciting. It brings back memories.”

Aircraft Transfer Branch planner Jeffrey Mitchell said this project was unique because it has a one-of-a-kind paint scheme.

“This is the fourth historical aircraft we have done for the air station, but the first A-4,” said Mitchell. “This project was chosen to honor Marine Attack Squadron 223 here on base, who flew the A-4 until ’87 when they received their first McDonald-Douglas AV-8.”

FRCE’s Aircraft Paint Shop provides paint schemes for the aircraft the depot services, but due to the A-4’s historic ties, Mitchell and his team sought additional help.

“We worked with historians at Marine Attack Squadron 223 for this aircraft’s paint scheme as the squadron is still stationed here,” said Mitchell. “We were able to get pictures and ideas from them; they were very helpful. We wanted to make this aircraft look like it did back in the day.”

Mills said due to the nature of this restoration, they were able to put their own touches on the aircraft’s paint scheme.

“It was nice to have a bit of our own creative freedom with this paint scheme,” Mills added.

In addition to a unique paint scheme, Mitchell said restoring historical aircraft for display differs from the processes used to paint the operational aircraft the depot normally services.

“We still painted it with the same color schemes as what they used during that time, but the overall paint job does differ from a regular aircraft painting process,” said Mitchell. “When you see aircraft flying missions, they usually look weathered and dull. For restoration jobs, we put a good clear coat on the aircraft to help withstand the sun and weather. The clear coat really helps protect the paint from bubbling up and fading over time.”

The Vietnam-era aircraft known as the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk is a single-seat attack aircraft developed for the Navy and Marine Corps in the 1950s and remained in service until 2003 when the Navy announced its retirement. The aircraft quickly became popular due to its compact size, lightweight body and ground attack capabilities.

Aircraft Clean and Paint Shop Supervisor Ronald Gray emphasized that while restoration projects like the A-4 deviate from FRCE’s usual focus on maintaining the Fleet’s operational aircraft, they showcase yet another way the depot’s artisans provide service to the fleet.

“Reviving old, retired aircraft like the A-4 for display is such an honor,” Gray said. “In doing so, we honor the depot’s history, the aircraft’s history, the aviators who flew A-4s and those who serviced it.”

FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

Man walking in front of aircraft and small metal vehicle

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) artisans transport the restored Douglas A-4M Skyhawk to temporary storage until it is moved to its final home as a historic display onboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. FRCE artisans worked with the air station’s historians to develop a unique paint scheme that honors a local Marine Corps squadron.

Side view of the finished aircraft

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) recently restored a retired Douglas A-4M Skyhawk. The aircraft will be a historical display onboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, to honor local Marine Attack Squadron 223, who are known for being the last operational A-4 squadron on the East Coast. For many FRCE artisans, this was their first time working on an A-4, which made for a unique experience.

Side view of the aircraft with tape and stencils stuck to it

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) Aircraft Paint Shop artisans apply stencils to the retired Douglas A-4M Skyhawk to ensure the placement and quality of the aircraft’s major markings and insignia. FRCE Artisans worked with local historians to design a historically accurate paint scheme.

Aircraft with brown paper taped to it and white paint on bottom half

Fleet Readiness Center East Aircraft Paint Shop artisans apply the first coats of paint to the retired Douglas A-4M Skyhawk. The aircraft will serve as a historical display onboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.

Two individuals in safety gear sand the grey aircraft

Fleet Readiness Center East Aircraft Paint Shop artisans prepare the historic Douglas A-4M Skyhawk for a fresh coat of paint by sanding the surface to remove any old paint.

Gray-looking aircraft in a large building

Having been in an aircraft storage facility for many years, the retired A-4M Skyhawk was in need of repair upon arrival at Fleet Readiness Center East.

Public Affairs Officer Contact:

Contact Us

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.